Q. So it's trying to be like a package manager as well? We have enough of those too.
A. Sort of. The Gnome team hasn't come up with any specifics about this yet, but we can understand their goal. Getting applications out to Linux users is notoriously difficult, unless they're running a rolling-release distro (like Arch) and you have good relations with the package repository maintainers. Trying to distribute apps yourself is also tricky, for the above reasons.
The Gnome hackers would like a situation where Gnome users, regardless of their underlying distro, can try the newest Gnome apps as soon as they're released. Similarly, Gnome will have a proper SDK with stable APIs.
Right now, to develop a Gnome app you have to read various bits of documentation from different sources, sign up to a few mailing lists to keep track of changes, and generally juggle various things at once. With a well-maintained SDK and APIs that have definite lifespans, life will be a lot easier for developers targeting Gnome. In particular, it will make proprietary application developers more interested in Linux, if they can focus on porting the code and not battling with a million combinations of distros and package managers.
Q. Does this mean the end of Gnome's obsession with being a tablet interface?
A. Yes and no. Although Gnome 3 has been enormously controversial, with so many former Gnome fans deeply frustrated with its radical changes, the Gnome developers are still aware that the desktop is important.
As Mr Day says: "Existing types of devices - primarily laptops and desktops - have to remain the primary focus for Gnome". At the same time, work is continuing on making Gnome suitable for touch-based devices, so we're interested to see how this pans out.
Whatever the case, it's interesting that the Gnome hackers have announced this major project now, when so many end users are begging them to fix some of the more critical problems with Gnome 3. Sure, there are many people who love the new design, but it's still a major point of contention in the Linux community, with countless opinion pieces flooding internet news sites and blogs.
A lot of long-time Gnome users feel that their voices are being ignored, so it would ease the situation if a way to deal with these problems could somehow be worked in to their future plans.
Q. OK, so I'm sort-of, kind-of maybe convinced. Perhaps. When will we see the first fruits of the Gnome team's labour?
A. They're hoping for a first release in March 2014. That's decent and realistic in our opinion, and means that they don't have to devote all of their time to it, so they can work on fixing some of Gnome 3's negative issues in the meantime. You can monitor the progress at http://live.gnome.org/GnomeOS/Design/Whiteboards, which shows various ideas for implementing the operating system and user interface changes.
And rest assured, as soon as the Gnome gang have something concrete to show us, we'll be covering it here in LXF.
Q. And what happens if it goes nowhere?
A. Don't be so negative! Let's at least give it a chance. The most important thing here is that we get new technologies and ideas to improve desktop integration.
Linux is undoubtedly the greatest collection of code and talent in the computing world, but there are still problems with fitting it all together into a cohesive desktop OS. If the Gnome team's efforts make Linux easier to use, improve co-operation between distros and remove duplicated work, it's a net win for everyone.
Who knows, even if you utterly despise Gnome 3, you might just be able to forgive them some day…
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